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Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to raise a number of issues about policing in Sutton. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) would like to speak too, so I shall try to limit my contribution.
It may be unusual, as an Opposition Member, to say that, generally speaking, things in Sutton are working well. The overall policing picture is a good one by comparison with other parts of London and the country. Sutton has the second lowest crime rate in London, and I pay tribute to the local force and the local council for achieving that. I am happy to back the bid by Sutton police to make Sutton the safest borough in London.
Not everything is perfect, of course. The Sutton racial equality council is concerned about the under-representation of ethnic minority officers, the turnover of staff in the community safety unit and the degree of consultation with ethnic minority communities. Perhaps the Minister could comment on the progress that is being made in meeting the target of 5 per cent. ethnic minority officers by the end of the year. There are also concerns in the constituency about 999 calls that are unanswered. I know that that issue was touched on in the debate last Friday.
Sutton police force is having to adjust its numbers following the boundary change with Surrey police on 1 April. That change means that the police boundaries are, for the first time, exactly coterminous with those of the London borough of Sutton. That change has resulted in the creation of the smallest police division in London, but one which I believe is perfectly formed.
Inevitably, reorganising the force and deciding which officers go to Sutton and which to Epsom has not been the easiest of tasks. Furthermore, the boundary change has left Sutton over strength by a net number of 21 officers. The serious shortfall in police numbers across London--hon. Members should be aware that those numbers have fallen by about 1,700 since the Government came to office--has meant that the 21 officers have had to be redeployed elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, many of those officers who were forced to move wanted to stay in Sutton and have been upset by their enforced relocation. Does the Minister agree that enforced relocation, whether caused by a change in police boundaries or by the tenure policy that requires officers to be moved perhaps two or three times within their careers, is unpopular within the Metropolitan police and ensures that valuable local experience and specialised expertise are lost?
Will the Government provide input to the consultation with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis on this important issue and support changes that make these moves voluntary rather than mandatory? When do the Government expect the Commissioner to report back on his consultation?
Enforced relocation is not the only local issue; pay is another. I recently secured an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on public sector workers' recruitment and retention in London. During that debate, I raised
The Home Secretary made the correct decision, though it will not solve current problems. What assessment have the Government made of the extra number of police officers who will be recruited and retained as a result of the change? I know that the Home Secretary was not able to answer that question last Friday, but perhaps the Minister will have had time over the weekend to analyse its impact. It remains the view of senior officers in my patch that retention will still be a problem even after the Home Secretary's welcome announcement.
Even in London's second safest borough, we cannot afford to lose officers. Last year's crime figures in Sutton were a disappointment, and ultimately that is the test of a policing and crime strategy. There was an increase in crime overall and in each of the major categories. Although burglary and vehicle crime rose relatively little, violent crime increased by 22 per cent. and street crime by 36 per cent. Those are the most worrying features.
I am happy to praise my local police force, but those figures are depressing and we cannot afford to be complacent. I know that Sutton police are not complacent and that they are redoubling their efforts to get Sutton back on track. However, unless they are given the resources that are needed, they will be facing an uphill struggle because of the increasing demands on police resources.
Is the Minister, for example, able to confirm the cost of policing the £1.5 million party that Sir Bob Geldof will be organising for London's mayor, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)? Who will be paying for the policing of that event? What mechanisms exist to stop resources being siphoned away from a relatively safe borough such as Sutton to inner-city boroughs by a Metropolitan police authority, which perhaps inevitably will have an inner-city focus? Will the Minister say how much of the budget of Sutton police will have to be paid out for the welcome increase in post-Sheehy officers' salaries, which will be effective from next week? I shall be happy for the Minister to respond later in writing because I have not notified him of all these questions.
There are ways of maximising the best use of police resources. I recommend the positive partnership approach that Sutton police have with the London borough of Sutton in tackling issues such as graffiti. Sutton council has also been working locally with the probation service on its anti-graffiti strategy. Following successful graffiti projects at Wallington station in my constituency and Stonecot hill, the council's community safety unit is co-ordinating a new project, again in my constituency, at Wrythe lane, Rosehill, which started on Monday.
Following consultation with shop owners, local residents, the police and the probation service as well as the Sutton youth awareness programme, murals are being created on 19 shutters at a row of shops in a busy shopping location. Not all the shop owners wanted a mural, and that is fine. None will be forced to take one. Offenders on community service orders will paint the shutters, ready for the murals to be painted on by local young people, supervised by Darren Cullen, who is a former graffiti artist.
I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that sort of partnership approach should be commended. However, I am concerned that the good work of all the organisations could be undermined in Sutton by the circulation of a magazine called Graphotism. I do not have a copy of the magazine to show hon. Members, but I have seen photocopies of some of the pages. The magazine is clearly dedicated to the promotion of graffiti. It features photographs of graffiti on commuter trains and it markets products for use by graffiti artists. Many people, including me, take the view that it encourages people to break the law. There is a very small disclaimer that can hardly be read on the pages of the magazine, and apparently that may be enough to let the producer off the hook.
What action can be taken against the publishers of such a magazine? I understand that the police solicitors and the Crown Prosecution Service believe that it would not be possible to prove mens rea, or intention. What further steps are the Government considering to deal with such a blatant incitement to commit a criminal offence?
One way of dealing with the problem of graffiti, if not Graphotism, might be through the creation of community constables, an idea that Susan Kramer promoted tirelessly in her excellent mayoral campaign. The idea is a simple one, and I am sure that the Minister will be familiar with it. I can point to a good example in my constituency. The Sutton parks constabulary is now in its second year and is proving very effective. Council officers are used to doing some of the work that would otherwise be done by the police and they are doing an excellent job. In the past year, for instance, the parks constabulary received 587 calls and dealt with a wide range of issues, mainly relating to youth disturbance, burglar alarms, unauthorised vehicles in parks, joyriding and abandoned vehicles. What plans do the Government have to extend the range of responsibilities that parks constabularies and others could take on?
Sutton is a relatively crime-free area. Local residents, the council, the police, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam and I all want to keep it that way. In fact, we want to make Sutton the safest borough in London, but we cannot do that without addressing the issue of officer retention and without a guarantee that Sutton will not be penalised for its success in keeping crime down. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure Sutton residents on those points.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the fact that Sutton is the second safest borough in London. That is something to be pleased but not complacent about. Sutton is also the smallest borough in London and, with the advent of the borough-based policing system from 1 April, which I certainly welcome, we now have the opportunity to have a much clearer focus of police activity on the problems of the local communities.
We can now have one set of partners. My hon. Friend has already said something about partnership working, which has been established in Sutton for 10 years, with the council, the police and many other community interests working together to develop and invest in crime reduction and prevention, tackling both crime and the fear of crime with initiatives such as closed circuit television, home security, gating projects and youth diversion initiatives.
My hon. Friend referred to the incitement, through a magazine that is circulating in the area, to damage property with graffiti. I hope that the Minister will say something about that and about what the Government intend to do about those who supply the paint products that are used for graffiti. Back in March, there was an initiative in Sutton that tackled the perpetrators. There were 30 arrests and a substantial reduction in graffiti following the concerted effort by the police, the council and others.
That exercise showed clearly that some of the people who supply and sell the paints do it in a way that is totally irresponsible, displaying them in such a way as to entice and paying no regard to the use to which they can be put. I hope that something can be done to control more effectively the way in which the products are sold.
Having the smallest division in the Met has many advantages, some of which I have outlined, but it also has some potential downsides. As my hon. Friend said, the Sutton division is having to slim down to get down to the 254 officers that it will have as a borough division, losing 21 officers from the bigger division that it once was.
There is also undoubtedly concern arising from the current tenure policy, and it is hitting morale. I have had letters expressing concern from local officers. A review of the policy is under way, and it certainly needs to be changed. We must ensure that we make best use of the experience that officers gain through their careers, and of the investment that the police service puts into the development of specialist skills. That can be lost through an ill-thought-out transfer to an area of activity that does not exploit those skills.
We do not have enough officers to police London with confidence. We have 25,480 officers--five years ago we had 28,000.
My hon. Friend rightly said that it is important, with a successful community safety strategy, never to be complacent. The crime figures in Sutton in the past year--for violent crime and street crime in particular--have been a cause for some disappointment and concern for my constituents, and for the council and the police, who need to redouble their efforts. They are doing that, but they also need to know that both the Greater London Authority, which is now the responsible body, and the Minister, who provides much of the funds, are mindful of the fact that a small police division needs to have a guarantee that its numbers will not be reduced any further.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) on securing this debate. We have debated policing in London a great deal recently, both in Adjournment debates and in the annual debate last Friday, so if he will forgive me, I will focus on the issues that he has raised relating specifically to Sutton rather than on some of the more general issues.
Both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) began by talking about current policing working well and rebutting the approach that was only too characteristic of Lady Olga Maitland when she represented Sutton and Cheam. It is worth placing on the record the comparative crime position in Sutton because, as has been said, it is very good.
Incidents of violence against the person in Sutton were 6.5 per 1,000 of the population in the 12 months to September 1999, compared with the Metropolitan police average of 11.2; sexual offences were 0.4 per 1,000, compared with 0.7; robberies were 0.5, compared with 2.3; burglaries from a dwelling were 2.1, compared with 5.1; thefts of a vehicle were 2.9, compared with 4.2; and thefts from a vehicle were 5.2, compared with 7.8.
None of that is reason to be complacent in any way, but both hon. Gentlemen are absolutely right to highlight the fact that Sutton is the second safest borough in London and to join the police in the borough in campaigning to make it the safest.
Greater London has witnessed significant change this year in its government, with the creation of the GLA and of the independent Metropolitan Police Authority and, most importantly in my opinion, with the
Many police officers have described our Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever to affect policing. That is predicated on good partnerships, which are massively assisted by being able to have common boundaries and therefore common professional, political and strategic links. That is extremely important.
Obviously, there may be teething difficulties, as there have been big changes in the policing of the Sutton area, with the transfer of the officers who police the Epsom area to the Surrey police. No doubt there may be some confusion in the immediate period, but I know that the hon. Gentlemen and all the authorities concerned will do their best to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. The ultimate result of the transition will, I believe, be positive for the residents of Sutton, as it will be more generally across the Metropolitan police force. The change is important and significant.
The issues raised by the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington and for Sutton and Cheam are important. Boundary changes under the leadership of the borough's police commander, John Bainbridge, to whom I also pay tribute, have become a conduit for the review of policing styles in Sutton. He has decided to adopt a combination of intelligence-led and problem-orientated policing that is locally delivered in partnership with the borough council. That is an important development. The Metropolitan police have invested more resources and effort into problem-orientated partnership activity, as in their view it will achieve lasting reductions in crime and disorder. Such improvements would have been more difficult to deliver before the boundary changes.
I understand the concerns expressed on the reduction in police numbers. I understand from the commissioner that the boundary changes left Sutton relatively over-staffed, when other London boroughs were short of staff. The result was the transfer of about 20 officers in June and July to other London boroughs, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said. The process has been handled by the force as sensitively as possible, and I hope that it will take place smoothly.
I understand that the boundary changes have resulted in a target in the Sutton borough area of 254 police officers by 31 March 2001. They will be supported by 75 civilian staff. We do not believe that that change will compromise the Met's policing style. Nor will it affect their operational activities. The policing of Epsom and the other areas that have been transferred to Surrey police is a matter for the chief constable of Surrey, who I am sure will ensure that Epsom is as well policed as previously. Indeed, Surrey's budget has been increased as a result of the boundary changes to ensure that the resources are available.
Both the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington and for Sutton and Cheam referred reasonably to the issues of tenure, which are important to consider. The facts on tenure are straightforward. For reasons of not only specialism, to which the hon. Gentlemen referred, but community continuity, which is essential to partnership work, we have considered that it is important to address again the question of tenure. The commissioner is indeed doing so. The Metropolitan police service career management policy is about to be launched, which will replace the tenure arrangements--officer postings--with a much more effective means of capitalising on the needs of the organisation and officers' particular professional skills.
I believe that the change on tenure will be widely welcomed--I certainly welcome it--and that it will address much more effectively the need for stability and the removal of uncertainty to which both hon. Gentleman referred. I hope that the change will be welcomed by all people throughout Sutton and by the hon. Gentlemen. I certainly commend it to them. It is part of a significant and substantial programme on which I am happy to give further details to them in writing if it would be helpful. It is an important part of the remotivation and rededication of the police service in London generally, and Sutton particularly, to the issues that have to be addressed.
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for my unparliamentary behaviour in laughing out loud when the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington claimed the increase in Metropolitan police pay as a Liberal Democrat campaign success. I have heard many things so claimed in my time, both in my constituency in Norwich and nationally, but without taking away any credit for the vigorous way in which the hon. Gentleman puts the case, I assure him that the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Friday was due to scientific assessment of a range of facts and the result of wide representation. I believe that it is out of order to laugh during a parliamentary debate, but I could not control myself. I try to be an extremely controlled individual, but I could not manage to be so on that occasion.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to the Sutton parks constabulary, which is an important point. The constabulary is an important complement to the work of the Metropolitan police service in Sutton. The London borough of Sutton parks police work closely with Metropolitan police staff under a joint protocol for responses to incidents and the flow of intelligence. The parks police have been directly involved in the graffiti and under-age drinking initiatives. The constabulary has eight constables, and its work complements our continuing drive to develop partnership between police and local authorities.
The graffiti campaign is important. I refer to the Adjournment debate on the matter on 27 March secured by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). Indeed, in the policing debate on Friday, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) raised such points. I take the points seriously; they are important and we are seeking to address them.
Sutton's multi-agency approach between the police, local businesses and communities, schools and the Crown Prosecution Service seems to be effective. I understand that a database of tags has been developed and important links between graffiti artists and priority crimes have been established. A total of 50 reported allegations have been dealt with by various means.
I commend to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington the development of new guidelines on closed circuit television in the context of his remarks on transport. I published them in February, and we gave particular priority to CCTV in areas where there is concern about transport. That will help our integrated transport policy and with the issues that he raised. I cannot tell him anything on the question of the publishers of the magazine, although I will look into that. We have looked carefully into the serious issues concerning paints and the way in which we can deal with them.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the 999 service, which is a serious concern. I dealt with that in my response to Friday's debate, so I will not go through the matter in detail except to say that many more staff have been recruited to address the issue. The issue of a major £1 billion investment in a completely new command and control system will be one of the earliest and toughest decisions for the new Metropolitan police authority. We in government have encouraged that. The Metropolitan police are working very hard on it and we acknowledge that serious issues need to be addressed.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the target--I emphasise that such targets are not quotas--for ethnic minority recruitment is 25 per cent. by 2009, which is challenging. The majority of forces should meet their target in 10 years, but we have accepted that some may take longer. I have no other information to give him on that subject. We give great priority to it for the simple reason that, in cities across the United States of America, for example, when a community identifies with the police force that serves it, policing is strengthened in a variety of important and different ways.
On Bob Geldof and the mayor of London's campaign party, I must confess that I do not study the affairs, particularly the social life and plans, of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) as closely as I perhaps should. However, I assure the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington that, under section 25 of the Police Act 1996, the commissioner has the power to charge for policing special events such as pop concerts. The matter is one for the commissioner, although any event that my hon. Friend might organise for his own pleasure and interest should not affect normal policing. Off-duty officers would often be used.